It was almost 40 years ago, on Nov. 4, 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter at the presidential ballot box, ushering in what some historians have since referred to as the “Reagan Era” — what conservatives and patriots and lovers of freedom have since recalled, with utmost fondness, as a time of American prosperity, global leadership and, sigh, proper placement of government.
My, the times have changed.
Yet the spirit of Reagan still soars throughout the land.
Reagan, decades after his presidency, has remained the go-to guy on the political stage against which all conservative contenders are compared.
“GOP to Romney: You’re no Reagan,” Politico wrote in 2012.
“Mitt Romney channels Ronald Reagan,” The Washington Post wrote in 2011.
“John McCain Compares Sarah Palin To Ronald Reagan,” The Huffington Post wrote in 2010.
“Donald Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan,” one columnist wrote in The Washington Examiner in 2018.
“Why ‘the Donald’ is the new ‘Ronald’: Parallels between Trump and Reagan,” another columnist wrote in the Des Moines Register in June.
Even libs want in on the man.
“Is Obama the New Reagan?” the Brookings Institution wondered in a 2008 headline.
“Obama, you’re still no Reagan,” CNN concluded in a 2015 headline.
And from Obama himself, came this — from a headline in Politico in 2015: “Obama: I’m Reagan and Hillary can be Bush 41.”
Problem is: Nobody is like Reagan.
Not really. Not completely.
His spirit of good governance mixed with humble service mixed with bold leadership and dashed with surprisingly sly and sometimes self-deprecating humor has proven tough to clone.
And on top of all that, Reagan had a quality that insistently, courageously, ambitiously and persistently pushed forward an America First agenda — without even having to go through the trouble of coining an America First message. He just was. It was part of his makeup; his compass; his DNA.
What a contrast he made to Carter at a time when Carter Politics were killing the nation.
“I’ve said before the difference between Carter and Reagan was, if you asked Carter what time it was, he’d tell you how to build a watch. If you asked Reagan what time it was, he’d say, ‘It’s time to get this country moving again,’ ” said Craig Shirley, one of the nation’s premier Reagan historians, with a bestselling background that includes authorship of numerous books on Reagan and his many campaigns, in an email to The Washington Times.
In 1980, Reagan and Carter were as different as night and day.
“Reagan wanted people to have more,” Shirley remembered. “Carter wanted people to have less. Reagan talked about growing hope and opportunity and Carter talked about an era of limitations. … Carter believed in co-existence and Reagan said we could and would transcend the Soviet Union.”
The Great Communicator? Try, the Great Doer.
Well, those days have passed.
Reagan is gone. Carter is an elderly man. President Donald Trump is the face of the White House. And socialists — open socialists! — are filling our local offices, moving into our federal buildings, running for our highest political positions in the land.
The times have certainly changed.
But then again — this, from Shirley: “Carter’s 1980 platform said government’s most important product was jobs. Reagan’s platform said freedom [and free markets] created hope, opportunity and jobs.”
That rings a lot like today’s political platforms — like the stuff and nonsense the left is trying to sell versus the common sense citizens-first ideal that conservatives, at least most of ‘em, are still fighting to preserve.
Individual freedom versus government control.
Self-reliance and private sector innovation versus federal regulation and redistribution.
Reagan, God rest his soul, knew which side of the fight was the winning side.
“Reagan has gone down in history as one of our greatest presidents,” Shirley said. “Carter has gone down in history as one of our worst presidents.”
Yes, indeed. The spirit of Reagan still lives. Thank God; the spirit of Reagan still soars free throughout America.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.